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Scientists restore cell, organ function in pigs after death

The findings may help extend the health of human organs

168348494 (For representation) Surgery being done on a pig

In a potential organ transplant breakthrough, scientists in the US have developed a new technology that restored cell and organ function in pigs after death.

The technology delivered a specially designed cell-protective fluid to organs and tissues, restoring blood circulation and other cellular functions in pigs a full hour after their deaths.

The findings, published recently in the journal Nature, may help extend the health of human organs during surgery and expand the availability of donor organs.

"All cells do not die immediately, there is a more protracted series of events, said David Andrijevic, associate research scientist at Yale School of Medicine and co-lead author of the study.

"It is a process in which you can intervene, stop, and restore some cellular function," Andrijevic said.

The research builds upon an earlier Yale-led project that restored circulation and certain cellular functions in the brain of a dead pig with technology dubbed BrainEx.

In the new study, the scientists applied a modified version of BrainEx called OrganEx to the whole pig.

The technology consists of a perfusion device similar to heart-lung machines -- which do the work of the heart and lungs during surgery -- and an experimental fluid containing compounds that can promote cellular health and suppress inflammation throughout the pig's body.

Cardiac arrest was induced in anesthetised pigs, which were treated with OrganEx an hour after death.

Six hours after treatment with OrganEx, the researchers found that certain key cellular functions were active in many areas of the pigs' bodies -- including the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Also, some organ functions had been restored. For instance, they found evidence of electrical activity in the heart, which retained the ability to contract.

The team was especially surprised to observe involuntary and spontaneous muscular movements in the head and neck areas when they evaluated the treated animals, which remained anaesthetised through the entire six-hour experiment.

These movements indicate the preservation of some motor functions, the researchers said. Additional studies are necessary to understand the apparently restored motor functions in the animals, they said.

The researchers also called for rigorous ethical review from other scientists and bioethicists. The OrganEx technology could eventually have several potential applications, according to the researchers.

For example, it could extend the life of organs in human patients and expand the availability of donor organs for transplant. It might also be able to help treat organs or tissue damaged by ischemia during heart attacks or strokes, they added.